Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Poldark argument

There is a lot of discussion at the moment on the so called “Rape scene” in the tv drama Poldark. There seems to be a split in the perception of the scene by viewers, with one segment of the comments disliking it and panning the BBC for showing it and others who thought it a fair depiction of the way in which long thwarted love between two people will suddenly erupt – especially when the woman is going to marry the man who has beggared you and is your greatest enemy.

The book, written in the sixties/seventies, has not been given the same treatment. Nor has the previous tv adaption which featured Robin Ellis. I feel sure there have been other rapes, some more violent – the Forsyth Saga, The Onedin Line, Daniel Deronda to name but a few. Watching historical drama with the mindset of modern times is never going to work. The lowly position of women in the 1790s has to be considered and understood. Men ruled, and that cannot be changed without changing history.

So many things are not pc now that it is difficult to say what we think without alienating somebody, somewhere. It strikes me as rather odd that the recent 50 Shades Books and films can be so popular when the subject matter is so close to rape (even if she did sign a consent form!) and that women now drool over pictures of half-naked men – exactly the behaviour they so hated when men drooled over pictures of half-naked women. Do as you would be done by seems a better maxim to follow.

The book was written in the era of the bodice ripper, which was once so popular and is now spoken of as trash. One of the themes of romance writing back then was that what began as rape could and often did transform into something better when the heroine realised that she could give in and enjoy what followed. Now it seems we are told that subjection, obedience and pain add to the delight of sex. The world is a weird place, but fortunately, most things pass away and are but as smoke on the wind.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Ebook sales fall

It seems Ebook sales declined by 2.4% in 2015, the first drop in numbers of books sold in this medium for the “big five” publishers since the digital age began.

According to the Bookseller, ebook sales slid as follows:-
Penguin Random House by 0.4%
Hachetteby 1.1%
HarperCollins (excluding Harlequin Mills & Boon by 4.7%
Pan Macmillan by 7.7%
Simon & Schuster by 0.3%

Slowed growth rate in ebooks is attributed in part to the publishers’ shift to agency pricing for ebooks and the fact that they have increased ebook prices.

Self-published ebooks are making a difference, too, by taking market share from the bigger publishers. According to a survey last year, self-published ebooks account for anything between £58m and £175m

In a November report, it claimed the big five account for 31% of all ebooks sold on, while self-published authors have reached 26%.

Read Alison Flood’s article
Wednesday 3 February 2016

I can add that the Bookseller does not consider the effect of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited system on individual authors. My personal experience may be different to everyone else, it’s true, but my income is now coming from the US Pages Read system rather than items bought. The UK seems to have stopped reading – or at least buying – since the referendum on June 23rd!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

How writingromance fiction has changed

Ambling around the internet this afternoon I found a long article on romance writing.... you will find the whole thing at this link -

Because I want to be able to find it again, I've put the first couple of paragraphs here. I'm also going to suggest you read the whole thing as I am about to do. It begins by comparing writing for both the literary genres and romance 

Madeline Iva is her pen name, and you won’t find a trace of her real-life identity anywhere.
Iva is an emerging novelist who, as she puts it, writes “lady smut.” Her first novella was published last year by HarperImpulse, and it focused on sexsomnia, an actual condition in which people have sex in their sleep and wake up not remembering anything about it. The story’s protagonist is a young economist who has the hots for a strapping biologist, and starts waking up in the morning on the floor wearing different clothes. She has to solve the mystery of what she’s doing at night—and whom she’s doing it with.
I met Iva for the first time in 2013 during a social outing with several other authors. She told me how much she loves writing smut. She calls romance novels “happiness machines”—they guarantee that you’ll be happier after reading the novel than before.
Only later did I discover Iva has an MFA in creative writing from a top-tier program in the U.S., where she studied under one of the most respected literary writers today.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

PC problems

Problems with my pc again, My e-mail keeps vanishing. This is the third time it has taken itself off into the unknown so I hope I am not missing important messages. We suspect it is a clash of some kind between software since I updated to Windows 10. Although I have Windows 10 on my laptop, it does not seem to be affected by the same problem, so I shall have to resort to e-mails on there until this is sorted.

Heard yesterday that Write Words, Inc - an independent US publisher - is closing down after 17 years, so that means that Banners of Alba, my very first book, and Dark Pool, its follow on story, will be reverting to me. I first published with them in 2006 and they have been sending me small sums of money all that time, so it is quite sad to see them disappear.

It means plenty of work over the winter to  check them over and re-publish them on Kindle with new covers. Meanwhile I'd better finish the Matfen Affair, which is standing at around 35,000 words so far.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

HNS Reviews

It seems the Historical Novel Society is having a re-think about reviews.
I have two  books with them right now for review, so it could not have come at a worse time - for me!

I read a long explanation from Richard Lee on why this has happened. It seems the people who did the reviews do it unpaid and as the volume of titles coming through for review has escalated, it takes too much time for one person to deal with and still have a life of their own.

Another reason is the inherent stigma still attached to indie books by virtue of them being reviewed separately from traditionally published books.

That's one thing. Another is the range of indie books has always been wide and recently the best have got better and those at the opposite end of the scale have got worse. The problem will be in sifting out the good from the less good.

There is a wish to review the best of the indie material alongside the traditionally published reviews. The problem seems to be how to achieve it. I hope an answer is found soon and that the HNS Review system continues and goes from strength to strength.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Life in the Fifties

People who talk about austerity today have very little idea what it really means. In the fifties, we all knew what it meant. Check out the link and discover more:

Rationing came to an end in 1954, having lasted 14 years. Any child growing up during the years 1940 to 1954 had a very limited diet and very little food intake. Adults too went hungry.  Check the old newsreels, you’ll see that no one was overweight. Fashion models of the days show off the waspy waist styles because women had much more prominent waists then – though it seems a strange way to describe something that was not there! Perhaps you get my drift anyway.

Toys were far fewer, made of metal or wood and lasted very well indeed, which was just as well because children had far fewer toys then. The garish plastic toy did not exist, nor did excessive spending at Christmas. A stocking that filled up with a tangerine, some nuts and possibly a bar of chocolate was enough to bring a smile to a child’s face. Towards the end of the fifties, annuals were popular as Christmas gifts. The Beano, Dandy, Eagle, Hotspur and School Friend Annuals all did well and provided hours of good reading.

We all went to church on Sunday, some morning and evening and getting Confirmed was a rite of passage. It was entirely possible that young people who went to church spent a lot of time eyeing up members of the opposite sex of their own age, but it was fun to flirt silently across the pews. 

Saturday was filled by walking to town to buy food in the market stalls lit by big hanging lamps that hissed and whined. Stand close enough to them in winter, and you could get warm. Then it was walk home with bulging bags, or queue for ages and hope to get on the bus when it arrived. There was always the possibility of bumping into a friend or relative or making a new acquaintance. Weekdays were filled with School and Work. It was a much simpler life, without the frills of today. But I remember it, the bits I do remember, as a happy time.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Life in the fifties

Life now is so different to the fifties when we all earned so little and we didn’t spend much because we didn’t have much spare cash. We had clothes that were “Sunday best,” few changes for every day and things were worn until they wore out. Shoes were polished and cared for because they had to last and trips to the cobbler were frequent. Segs were hammered into the heels of flat shoes to make them last that little bit longer. Colours were sober and the darker the better to hide marks.

Since a car was only for the rich, travelling to work on steamy, fugged up crowded buses – because people smoked then and there was little or no heating – through the dark gloom of winter mornings, was standard. Everyone rushed to get on board because waiting in the cold for ten minutes made the bus seem a haven of warmth and comfort. Chat with the conductor as s/he took the fare and punched out a ticket, and with fellow travellers that you met every day made for a noisy, but cheerful journey.

It was hard to get privacy for romance back then. You could invite your young man back home but since only one room was heated, that meant sitting with the family or freezing to death in the “front room.” Not a good option. So there was a huge need to get out and have your own place, even if it meant “taking lodgings.” If you’ve watched Endeavour then you’ll have seen the kind of place he was living in then. They didn't aim for five-bedroom houses with central heating and three bathrooms, but for much more modest accommodation. A small, "two-up and two down" that needed work might be all that they could afford, but at least they would be on their own - and they were young; they had the energy to re-decorate and make it better. 

Since the young were expected to contribute to the household expenses once they were earning, that too was an incentive to strike out on their own. Everyone saved for a deposit on a house and went in hope to the bank manager who would authorize a mortgage if he thought you could manage the repayments. Young people didn’t go out clubbing, or spending money on clothes, makeup, alcohol and mobile phones as they do today; they went out on a Saturday night “to the pictures,” sat in coffee bars spinning out a couple of coffees listening to Bill Haley or had a drink at the pub and then the man walked the young lady home. There would be goodnight kiss on the doorstep, if they felt so inclined.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Never had it so good

Comparing life today with life in the fifties ought to make everyone feel that life today is comfortable and safe. I know, there are always exceptions and sad stories, but imagine trying to live without central heating now that autumn mornings are kicking off the central heating. Remember waking up to ice on the inside of the bedroom windows? There was a real disincentive to crawl out of the warm nest of blankets (no duvets) and stagger off to a freezing bathroom to wash (no showers) before going to work or school. The water wasn't always piping hot, either, and the lino underfoot was like ice.

Then it was walk to school where at least there was some warmth in the classrooms. (Pity poor mum who stayed at home in the cold house all day. No wonder she did housework - to keep warm!) Walk home again at lunch time, back to school again and then home. Four journeys in freezing, damp and dismal winter days wearing knee length socks and a thick gaberdine school mac with a quilted lining inside. For me it was about four miles a day, maybe five that I walked, so I gobbled up the jam roly-poly pudding and never put on any weight. Some days gym lessons were hockey and netball - outside in the field. Remember the red knees and chilblains? I never see schoolgirls playing hockey these days, though I'm sure they must be some, somewhere.

Washing machines were rudimentary and still required a mangle and a good drying day. Refrigerators were a luxury, but anyway, houses were cold enough without them, weren't they? Fitted carpets? who had those? Or telephones, or televisions. Radio was the standby for cold winter nights by the only fire in the house. Personal computers weren't available and if you wanted to write a book, you did it by hand or on an old typewriter that almost broke your wrist as you used it.

The fifties (only sixty years ago) were only a few years after a six year war, and the Cold War with Russia was threatening both America and Europe. I had forgotten such things, but when I listen to a certain D Trump, memories of those days return.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A few good points

Did you know that the thriller genre has action while the suspense genre has danger  but not necessarily action? I had not even considered the difference between the two genres, but of course it is true.  I wish I had the kind of analytical mind that can cut through these things at a glance. On the other hand, I'm not so bad at symbolism.

The rhythm of a novel is the rate the reader reads, the speed at which the novel events occur and unfold. Dialogue can speed things up very nicely.  Pacing is the  length of time between moments of conflict. Though a protagonist may not know what his goal is on the first page, he jolly well ought to know by page thirty, and hopefully, earlier than that. Every step afterwards should be a step towards that goal. Interest is maintained and heightened if he encounters obstacles that must be overcome, and other characters will usually have a different set of goals that collide with his.

These things sound so simple when put  on the page like this, but trying to "see" what is happening in the half-written novel is a different matter altogether. This is where the skill of the writer comes in, though I suspect some would say it is where a good editor tells you where change is required. I can't help the sneaking feeling that a) I would love to have a good editor and b) that a good writer should not need a good editor to point out where things could be improved. Call me conflicted!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Elephant Orphanage

25th September 1981

The first stop of the morning was at the Elephant Orphanage twenty five miles from Kandy. There we met several teenage elephants already grown quite huge and half a dozen smaller ones. The youngest was only two months old and especially cute. He sucked Bob’s finger quite happily and downed three pints of milk at a sitting. The other greedy youngsters devoured five or six pints and the older elephants ate 250 lbs of greenery a day.
Only elephants found abandoned in the jungle are reared and once they are old enough they move down the road to work and training camps.

We continued driving to Nurawa Eliya in the hills of Sri Lanka. On the way we stopped at a tea plantation and learned how tea is grown and prepared. The best pure Ceylon tea is known as Broken Orange Pekoe and the second is BOP filings. The tea bags we have been using are made from the dust that is left after the six better grades of tea are produced and is literally swept up from the floor. Tea should never leave tannin stains behind in the cup.

The St Andrews Hotel at Nurawa Eliya is a hundred-year-old Dutch building still with its original fittings and furnished. The place has a distinct Scots affiliation with its tartan carpets! There is also a distinct coolness in the atmosphere because we have climbed into the hills. I didn’t think there would be such a difference, but there is. Evidently the cooler temperatures are good for tea-growing. The food at dinner was the best so far but for the Oberoi Lanka in Columbo.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

24th September 1981

Our morning expedition was to the famous Temple of the Tooth down on the lakeside. The tooth is the famous canine tooth of Buddha enclosed in eight caskets all of gold. Three times a day the shrine enclosing the tooth is opened for the people to view, and at festival time the Tooth Casket is carried around the city on the back of a huge elephant – a tusker splendidly jewelled for the celebration. Once every five years, the tooth itself is viewed.

In the evening, after a quick trip to the Market and a walk through Kandy’s main streets, we went to a Kandy Dance Evening and watched men and women perform some of the local dances. There were lots of costumes, feathers and loud music but it was exciting and I must say, very different to the sedate Morris dances back home.

Friday, 23 September 2016


23rd September 1981

Our bags were packed and loaded by 9am and we set off for Sigiriya Rock Fortress, also known as the Lion Rock. There was the usual encampment of coke-selling stalls with carvings and collections of “antique” brass lining the route towards the rock itself. Beggars also waited at strategic points, but not too many of them. The steps just went up and up the 600 foot rock in varying pitches, gradients and directions, and the wind grew increasingly strong. Ladies in dresses were in imminent danger of ballooning.

The frescoes of the handmaidens of the king were halfway up the rock; sheltered by an overhang, 18 of the many originals have survived from the 5th century. The portraiture is exact though the colours have probably deteriorated slightly. One can differentiate between Indian, Singalese and possibly Chinese features among the ladies. Their headdresses and jewellery are still seen today.

The last ascent is made from a natural platform carrying more soft drink sellers. Many people back out of the climb at this point, eyeing the frail ladders up the face of the rock with doubt and disbelief. We carried on. Once there was a lion’s head to complement the lion’s paws that still guard the entrance, and the steps went up and into the lion’s jaws. Now all that remains are the two massive paws.

At the top of the rock the view is splendid on all sides. The foundations of the brick palace are still to be seen plus the swimming pool which had water pumped to it from the rain water collection tank at the opposite end of the rock site.

We had a good buffet lunch at the Sigiriya Rest House after a refreshing swim in the Resthouse pool. Afterwards we travelled on to Kandy, stopping at a spice garden and a batik factory on the way. Spices grown and packaged in the garden are priced at 15 rupees each so I bought citronella and saffron, both of which are extremely expensive in England.

The Batik factory was interesting. Such a complicated procedure of building up colours and blocking out patterns by using paraffin wax makes the high price of the finished article understandable.

Our final visit was to a Buddhist temple which had a library. The palm fronds are straightened and polished on a pulley (weighted) over a ceiling beam ad are then ready to have the inscription scratched into the polish. The ink is rubbed across the surface and then wiped off, leaving only the carved inscription. The fronds are cut and made into long narrow “books” bound by two threads and backed by decorated boards. Some were over 1200 years old and are still just as good as the day they were made.
The hotel in Kandy was perched on top of the central hill with superb views of the surrounding hills.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sri Lanka

22nd September 1981

After a light breakfast in my room I felt well enough to visit several temples and the ruined city of Polonnaruwa. The highlight of the morning was definitely the reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa, but we also visited a ruined palace that once towered several stories high and all built from tiny hand-made bricks. It was extremely hot and I tried to keep in the shade and not walk far.
Razeen told us about the king who had built the things we were to see and our very first stop was at a self-portrait the king commissioned, cut out of a living rock. The figure was most impressive and reached a height of about twelve feet, carved three dimensionally.

The palace was built in small dark red bricks and only two stories are now standing. We discovered a family of month old puppies and their mother living in a neat little nest among the walls, covered on three sides and roofed with dried palm fronds by some kindly disposed person.

Our next stop was at a vast temple-palace complex where we photographed iguanas and drank coke purchased from a wayside stall. None of us will try the king coconut or arrack because of the germ risk! There were a few beggars by the stall, including one old man in a wheelchair because he had deformed legs.

Back at the Village Hotel at Habarana we ate a mediocre lunch and then swam in and sat by the pool all afternoon.

(Because my pictures of this trip were -and still are - on slides, I have included a link to the  Unesco site where there are pictures of many of the sites we visited.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Memories of the past

20th September 1981 (Found in an old diary)

Rose at six in order to swim before breakfast but were forestalled by pool cleaning activities, so had an early breakfast instead. The car for our trip around Sri Lanka was comfortable and seemed much sounder that many of the vehicles on the road. Very few have doors or driving mirrors, and I don’t look too closely at the tyres because sometimes there aren't any. There are no pavements except in Columbo’s major streets and the roads are thronged with people, bullock carts, bicycles, dogs and children in even small villages in the countryside. Our driver sounded his horn at every obstacle, so that our progress was punctuated by the horn blowing every few yards.

There were two or three sudden and heavy rain showers, but fortunately they occurred while the four of us were safe in the car or inside a cafĂ© having a coke. I couldn’t face the smelly loo, and was therefore most thankful to see the standards at our lunch venue were very much higher though it did not match the splendour of the Oberoi Lanka in Columbo.

Lunch was edible though nothing very special. The soup was strange, faint, watery affair with white mushy strands and a few carrots. Instead of rice with the curry we were given what I think were thin noodles made from rice flour. Dessert was a small cup of fresh fruit among which we identified mango and banana but nothing else.

We were besieged by beggars who “entertained” with cobras and wailing flutes. On the whole I decided my sympathies were with the de-fanged snakes, which were basketed and unbasketed every ten seconds or so in order to winkle money out of us tourists.

Our first stop was at the shrine enclosing the sacred Bo tree, of which we saw only saplings taken from the original. We walked around in bare feet among the pilgrims who were dressed all in white as they prayed or meditated on the impermanence of life which is likened to the beautiful lotus offered on the altars – beautiful but short lived.

From there we waked across short grass to a vast dagoba built solidly of bricks. It was dazzlingly white in the sunshine and towered over our heads. Each level of the dagoba has a symbolic meaning which was explained to us. but the only one I recall is the crystal surmounting the final pinnacle; it represents nirvana. The lowest level of the dagoba is surrounded by a frieze of eight-feet high elephants, head and forefeet appearing out of the wall, tusks towards any person who dares approach.

Here we were accompanied by first one, then two, then three little girls who attached themselves to members of our party. They pressed flowers into our hands and offered small phrases in English. They were very pretty; in fact one was beautiful, but their faces had already become their fortune. Very soon they were asking for two rupees to buy a school pen. It is a tiny amount, but when we gave coins to the three little girls we were immediately surrounded by ten or eleven others all demanding rupees.

One small boy switched from asking for a school pen and pointed to my Kuoni baggage label. “I like that very much. I would like to have that. You give me that?”

I pointed out that I needed the baggage check on my flight-bag so that my bag would get home to England. I gave him my British Airways label, which he obviously thought a poor substitute, for he kept up his request for the Kuoni label all the sixty yards back to the car.

As we climbed inside we were surrounded. The light was blocked as children crowded round. Bob tried to distribute “Treets” against Shirley's advice - one to each child but gave up as hands thrust through the window. One boy grabbed the bag out of his  hand and disappeared as fast as he could leaving disgruntled children glaring at each other. The lucky few ate their milk chocolate Treets.

Our next stop was the ancient city of Anuranapur which was once the size of London today. Our tour guide Razeen gave us a lecture about a semi-circular moonstone, and then moved on to a bathing pool once reserved for monks from the nearby sanctuary. Since the light was beginning to go – photographically speaking – we told our driver Shirley Fernandez to head back to the hotel. In case you are wondering, Shirley was male.

In the village of Harabanai, the hotel consisted of cottages away from the main hotel buildings. There is a shower, but the water pressure is weak, and nothing like the pulsating jet at the Oberoi Lanka.

I was very hungry, but dinner was a disaster in many ways. The soup was some kind of fish plus celery which no one cared for overmuch. Then we were served fried bread topped with ham topped with fried egg. It was awful, fried I think in coconut oil. The main course was meatball and mine, contrary to everyone else’s, was almost raw. When this was pointed out, it was exchanged but the second was not much improved. I ate most of it not because I liked it but because I felt obliged to after making a fuss.

It was around this time that the waiter caught Marion around the ear with a plate and then nearly tipped an armful of dirty plates over her as he stumbled. Minutes later another waiter dropped the sugar bowl in trying to place it on the table by reaching over my shoulder. The final disaster was much later when the meatball had its revenge – I was very sick about two in the morning.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Making changes

 I'm looking through an old notebook to decide if there's anything worth keeping before I bin it, and there are one or two snatches of notes it wouldn't do me any harm to read again from time to time. (I didn't make a note of where I found these nuggets of information, but I went through a stage of buying Maass, Morgan, Snyder and Lyon so it is probably a synthesis of all they've said but in shorthand form a la Jen. The last post concerned scenes, and this post builds on that:

The beginning introduces characters, establishes their motivation and goals and introduces conflict. The middle develops the relationships and builds and intensifies the conflict. The ending brings all the separate pieces together through a climax and satisfying resolution.

Scenes equal action. The reader lives through it with the character. It is a bridge or transition with three elements – an emotional response to something in the previous scene, dilemma (either ongoing or something new) and a decision - how the character intends to go forward.

A sequel has only one character, usually not the person who was POV character in the previous scene – the reader should already have been given his thoughts.

Flashbacks come in the sequel, not in the scene. Two sequels might be needed back to back. They provide logic and plausibility to the story by letting readers know why a character does what he does. He may do the opposite when faced with conflict but then that too can be explained in the sequel.

So now, with all these thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I'm going through the nine chapters of the wip. Already significant details such as names and ages have changed, so I need to get things straight in my head before going on.